Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week's focus on which books exceeded or didn't meet our expectations. Like many memers, I chose to go with the 5 in each camp approach.
What I liked MORE than expected:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I put off reading this classic American novel for decades because of its saccharine sweet reputation. When I finally read it, I was astounded by how good it was. Yes, it was sweet, but there is a darkness there, and grit and realism and courage that make it a wonderful novel and an important novel in American history.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - I assumed that it was nothing but propaganda, but the writing is excellent and the characters multi-faceted and nuanced. I am so glad I finally read it and consider it one of the most important documents ever written in America.
Dracula by Bram Stoker - I tend to avoid horror stories and horror movies, and vampires are so over-exposed that they're cliche, but this original story created a genre and I found myself impressed by the realism and style. A real nail-biter in which the author doesn't romanticize the monster...what a novel idea!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I went to the movie whilst on vacation with my kids and husband and was surprised by how much I liked it. So I read the book and was really impressed by how good a book it is. I had dismissed it as YA sensationalism, but it has an interesting premise and is well-executed.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe - I expected to be rolling my eyes at the gothic excesses of this classic novel, but instead found myself enjoying it immensely, from the panoramic scenes to the dastardly deeds of the villain to the timely fainting of the heroine. Yes, it's over-the-top, but in a very entertaining way.
What I liked LESS than expected:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - I started this with great anticipation and while I liked it well enough to give it a decent review, I didn't like it well enough to consider rereading it. I'm not sure it lived up to its hype.
The Aspern Papers by Henry James - While James and I don't get along all that well, I was expecting to enjoy this story after reading about it in John Berendt's City of Falling Angels. However, I found this novella almost interminable--dull, dull, dull. I just finished rereading City of Falling Angels, and am once again considering reading The Aspern Papers--do I not learn from the past? Why do I think this time it will be any better?
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough - I've enjoyed a number of McCullough's books over the years--Logan's Run, The Thornbirds, The First Man in Rome, and others, so I was so excited when I heard she had written a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. This is seriously one of the worst books I've ever read. I should have abandoned it, but I received a review copy and was determined to read it cover to cover and to see if it redeemed itself. I still have no idea why McCullough decided to write this book. Truly awful.
Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara - The prequel to The Killer Angels, written by Shaara's father, Michael, I found it almost unreadable. The Killer Angels is one of my all-time favorite books--I've read it about four times and foist it on anyone who expresses an interest in the American Civil War. Where The Killer Angels is humanistic, moving, and insightful, Gods and Generals is pedantic, preachy, and trite.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens - After not reading a Dickens novel for roughly ten years, I returned to the fold with this book and he almost lost me again for another ten. I found it preposterous and arrogant. It's as if Dickens got so full of himself as a reformer that he forgot his craft. Reading this book was truly a chore, and I breathed such a sigh of relief when I finally reached the end. I knew I wouldn't like it--I always felt that he ripped off Elizabeth Gaskell with this book--but I really didn't expect to loathe it!